What is Wine Tourism?

Wine tourism refers to tourism whose purpose is or includes the tasting, consumption or purchase of wine, often at or near the source. Wine tourism can consist of visits to wineries, vineyards and restaurants known to offer unique vintages, as well as organized wine tours, wine festivals or other special events.

Many wine regions around the world have found it financially beneficial to promote such tourism; accordingly, growers associations and others in the hospitality industry in wine regions have spent significant amounts of money to promote such tourism.

This is true not only to 'Old World' producers (such as Spain, Portugal, Hungary, France or Italy), but also for the so-called 'New World wine' regions (such as Australia, Argentina, Chile, United States or South Africa), where wine tourism plays an important role in advertising their products. In Argentina, for example, the Mendoza Province is becoming one of the tourist destinations in the country as Argentine wine strides to gain international recognition. Similarly, the National Wine Centre of Australia showcases the Australian wine industry, and visitors from around the world visit Northern California's Wine Country.

Winery tasting room is no longer simply venues to taste and purchase wine. Many offer a complete tourism experience - including services such as restaurants, accommodation, tours, picnic facilities and recreational facilities. Today's tasting room is a place where visitors can interact with the product, the winemaker & experience first hand, the rich diversity that the wine region has to offer.

The tasting room is simply an essential interface between your brand and your customers, bypassing traditional retail channels and allowing for development of a direct relationship. With this objective in mind, winery cellar doors aim to offer services that meet - and exceed - visitor expectations. Considerable effort is put into design elements that create a relaxed and friendly environment, conducive to the visitors' needs.

The People Factor

Service levels are also paramount, with tasting room staff being encouraged to conduct tastings in a jargon-free unpretentious manner - a common criticism of the wine tasting experience for many visitors. Tasting room staff are literally the winery's 'walking, talking brand ambassadors' and require a high level of wine and tourism knowledge, coupled with people-friendly personal attributes.

The all important lasting positive impression of a visit to tasting room is the key to a successful operation.  Word of mouth customer-driven promotion based on positive experience is a potent way to grow your business. There are many ways to evoke memory in visitors, from the wines themselves, the staff, food on offer, architectural features to the opportunity to observe a working winery. No one of these factors is the key on its own. Rather it is a combination of these and other things that create the winning impression. Different people will respond to different aspects of their visit so it is important to focus on building a complete experience that reflects and complements your brand.

The tasting room is therefore an essential interface between your brand and your customer - make it work to your advantage. Tasting rooms no longer simply offer a place to taste and buy wine - they can offer food, accommodation, tours, picnic and recreational facilities. Your staff are your brand ambassadors - make sure they know your product, your region and effectively represent your brand.

If you're planning a tasting room or are keen to review your existing facilities, here are four key areas to consider:

Location

Being close to, or preferably part of, a main tourist route
Proximity to target markets and/or high population areas
Being part of a strong tourism region and/or close to other wineries

Signage

Strong entry statement that entices visitors to stop
Good directional signage into and throughout the property

Branding

Brand consistency through signage, buildings, grounds and facilities
Professionally presented and maintained entrance, ground and buildings
Authenticity and a clearly recognisable point of difference

Extra Selling Points

Adequate parking for a range of visitors
The ability to create a 'destination in its own right'
Family-friendly facilities
Links with nature-based activities
A range of facilities that lead to a 'total tourism experience'

Therefore three essential considerations are:

Location - proximity to main tourist routes, target markets and other attractions
Branding - differentiation and consistency of message
Signage - clear directional signage.

My message to the Balkan wineries is to try and create a lasting positive impression - word of mouth can be a very effective sales tool. Also, don’t say good bye to your customers when they leave the cellar door - this is your opportunity to continue building a relationship, as visitors to the Balkan wineries have access to over 600 winery tasting rooms!